We studied the effect of sickling on the transmembrane reorientation and distribution of phospholipids in the red blood cells of patients homozygous for sickle cell anemia (SS). To this purpose, we followed the redistribution kinetics of trace amounts of spin-labeled analogues of natural phospholipids first introduced in the membrane outer leaflet of normal or sickle erythrocytes exposed to air or nitrogen. Deoxygenation had no effect on the lipid redistribution kinetics in normal (AA) cell membranes. At atmospheric pO2, unfractionated SS cells were not different from normal cells. However, on deoxygenation inducing sickling, phosphatidylcholine passive diffusion was accelerated and the rate of the adenosine triphosphate-dependent transport of aminophospholipids was reduced, especially for phosphatidylserine. The stationary distribution of the aminophospholipids between the two leaflets was slightly less asymmetric, a phenomenon more pronounced with phosphatidylethanolamine. These changes were rapidly reversible on reoxygenation. When SS cells were separated by density, both dense and light cells exhibited the properties cited above. However, dense cells exposed to air possessed a lower aminophospholipid transport rate. These data favor the relationship between aminophospholipid translocase activity and phospholipid transmembrane asymmetry. Sickle cell disease is the first case of aminophospholipid translocase pathology.

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